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Green fatigue or a case of the blues?

Green fatigue or a case of the blues?

by Michael Lockhart,

New Zealand needs a multi-party consensus on a ‘pathway to sustainability’ that will provide a clear direction and certainty for everyone.

It should be easy for people to be green but instead it’s difficult. A recent survey has found that New Zealanders are supposedly suffering "green fatigue" because of constant warnings of an environmental catastrophe. While 97 percent of those surveyed said they were doing their bit for the planet, only 3 percent claimed to be "totally committed". Readers Digest, which commissioned the survey, quoted an advertising executive who said "Green" was a "damaged brand" and media saturation had led to "green fatigue".

The survey’s findings suggest that people are getting mixed messages that are creating confusion and apathy. The fact is that there is not enough exhortation for positive change and instead there is too much catastrophising and finger-pointing which just creates a sense of guilt and powerlessness in the average person.

Much of the rhetoric – from politicians, businesspeople, NGOs and commentators – reported by the media is wide of the mark anyway. People are being misled by the bickering and by the resultant hyperbole and innuendo. Many of these arguments are quibbles over small things – it is extraordinary how much attention plastic shopping bags get – perhaps as the book says, we shouldn’t sweat the small stuff.

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There is too much emphasis on efficiency when our economic systems are fundamentally unsustainable. Unsustainability can’t be solved if people simply become more efficient. It is an unfortunate fact that, whilst resource efficiency is very important, being less bad is still bad. When people struggle to 'do their bit' and it’s still not enough this understandably leads to disillusionment and 'green fatigue'.

If you are hurtling towards a precipice just slowing down isn't going to help in the long run – you need to change direction completely. We need fundamental, systemic changes that would include:

  • Changing from a carbon economy to a solar economy;
  • Changing from finite, extracted resources to unlimited, renewable resources;
  • Changing from perverse consumption to sustainable consumption;
  • Changing from subsidising polluters to taxing them;
  • Changing from taxing resource efficiency to subsidising it;
  • Changing from large-scale intensive monoculture farming to organic farming;
  • Changing from degradation of natural capital to restoration of natural capital.
  • Systemic changes only happen when people are united in change and that usually only occurs when there is inspirational and visionary leadership in government. If a change of direction is instigated it will make it easier for people to live more sustainably which will lead to more change. At the moment there is no ‘positive feedback’ for people who are trying to live sustainably.

    Instead of the vacillation that our political system tends to lead to, we need a multi-party consensus for a pathway to sustainability. The consensus process must include broad consultation and policy research; not to get a popular decision but to get the best possible information. Politicians will need to leave their egos at the door and also be prepared to make decisions that are unpopular in the short term. A mult-party implementation will give all New Zealanders a clear direction and more certainty.

    The best thing any individual can do is exhort their leaders and decision-makers to make these fundamental changes towards sustainability. We shouldn’t be fobbed off until a ‘better time’ and we shouldn’t stand for short-term thinking, quick fixes and fast gains. Good leaders will make difficult, and sometimes unpopular, decisions and all leaders should be accountable now for the decisions they make that affect the future.


    Michael Lockhart

    Econation | Making sense of sustainability

    Econation is New Zealand’s leading independent source of information and education about sustainability. Our aim is help people make good, sustainable decisions at home, in business and in their communities. Please visit our website, you can also sign-up to receive our free, informative, carbon-neutral email newsletter at:

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